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Optimum Performance: Are NFL cheerleaders athletes?

The New Orleans Saints Saintsations dance team wore pink and black outfits in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month during the New Orleans Saints vs. Buffalo Bills in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome October 27, 2013. (Michael DeMocker, / The Times-Picayune)

So wat does it take to become an NFL cheerleader? According to, Dallas Cowboy (DCC) cheerleader candidates are judged on: dance technique, enthusiasm, poise, showmanship, personal appearance, figure, personality, energy, high kicks, and splits.

That’s a larger criteria than how prospective college players are evaluated each year in February at the NFL Combine. The DCC candidate must be at least 18 by the time of preliminary auditions – with tryouts beginning in May. And, “Yes! Many mothers have successfully fulfilled all DCC obligations.”

Auditions, noted the DCC website, “Are a multi-step process beginning with Application, Preliminary Audition, Semi-Final Audition, Personal Interview, Written Test, and Final Talent Auditions follow for selected candidates.”

From a fitness standpoint, the DCC emphasized that, “Flexibility and splits are REQUIRED by the start of the football season but continual stretching and flexibility work can eventually get results.” The DCC candidates are recommended to stretch, “Warm muscles – with particular focus on the hamstrings and hip flexors.”

Story by

Mackie Shilstone,

Contributing writer

The Washington Redskins Cheerleaders, according to, “Pride themselves in offering unique and various types of ways to prepare to be a cheerleader one day…or just dance, be in shape and look like one.”

In July, Kriste Lewis, a mother of two, earned a spot on the 2014 Saintsations’ roster. A July Saints’ press release stated that: “‘Lewis is one of only two NFL cheerleaders in her 40s, and she’s the oldest to ever audition for the Saintsations,’said Lesslee Fitzmorris, director of the squad since 2001.”

The Saintsations, who held their tryouts for their 2014-15 team on April 27, are composed of two teams – Appearance Performing and Field Performing. “The focus of the Appearance Team,” as stated on the Saints’ website, “Will be community outreach, game day appearances, stadium performances and media relations, while for the Field Performing Team, “The focus will be community appearances and on field performances.”

Saintsation applicants should be able to, “Posses extensive dance technique. Benefits of membership on this team include extensive dance training, community relations and a regimented rehearsal schedule.”

Randi Savoie, who began her tenure as a Saintsation in 2008 and stayed through the 2010 Super Bowl season, commented that: “It was my extensive background in dance and cheering since high school that helped me succeed at the auditions.” Savoie, who was nineteen at the time, made a last minute decision only one week before the Saintsations’ tryouts to give it a shot.

Once on the squad, Savoie said: “We practiced twice per week for 3-4 hours of intense, non-stop workouts – emphasizing dance and flexibility routines.” In addition, she noted, “We were provided with the assistance of a personal trainer from Franco’s Athletic Club on the North Shore to work on strength training. ”

Much like Saints players, who have regular weigh-ins during the season, Savoie said “each week before home games we were weighed and had our body fat tested using a skin caliper.” says the skinfold test, “estimates the percentage of body fat by measuring skinfold thickness at specific locations on the body. The thickness of these folds is a measure of the fat under the skin, also called subcutaneous adipose tissue.”

Additionally, “skinfold thickness results rely on formulas that convert these numbers into an estimate of a person’s percentage of body fat according to a person’s age and gender.”

In my experience, the accuracy of these tests is determined much in part by the experience of the tester and the formula selected. The more obese the individual is, the greater the margin of error, which, of course, would not be the case with the cheerleaders.

So, when the athletes – the Saintsations – come on the field at the next home game, make sure to give them a round of applause for all their hard work and preparation. And, do the same for the Saints’ players too.


Mackie Shilstone, a regular contributor to | The Times-Picayune, has been involved in the wellness sports performance industry for nearly 40 years. He is currently the fitness coach for Serena Williams, has trained numerous other professional athletes and consulted a litany of professional sports franchises. He is St. Charles Parish Hospital’s Fitness and Wellness expert. Contact him at